Tuesday night, new rules for homeless shelters in Traverse City moved a step closer to becoming law. Planning Commissioners voted five-to-three to send the zoning changes on for debate at the full city commission. The move to establish these rules comes as city residents debate a proposal from Safe Harbor to build the city’s first overnight shelter facility.
Planning commissioners were split over whether the proposal would allow emergency homeless shelters that are outsized for neighborhoods in Traverse City. It would allow shelters to house as many as 100 people each night. Planning Commissioner Michael Dow voted against the plan. He says he can find no examples of similar sized cities that have a shelter that large.
Other commissioners argued the number is reasonable. They say it matches the numbers currently served by area churches, which take turns housing people in the winter months through a program called Safe Harbor. Leaders say this year they had about 75 people in that program a night.
Safe Harbor leaders say that’s too many people for many of the local churches to comfortably house, and that the number has dramatically risen in recent years. That’s why Safe Harbor is proposing building a homeless shelter in Traverse City.
The proposal that goes to the city commission would allow shelters in 10 different districts of the city, all commercial districts outside of the downtown. One of those districts does include Safe Harbor’s proposed location off Eighth Street on Wellington, near the public library. But City Planner Russ Soyring says, were the city to adopt the proposed zoning rules, that proposal would be subject to its own scrutiny, including at least two public hearings and a vote of the city commission. The city does not currently have zoning rules in place for emergency shelters.